Here is a first look at Formula E’s new steering wheel, thanks to Mahindra Racing boss Dilbagh Gill.
We brought you news back in May that this new unit was on the way. Here’s what we said (though it subsequently appears that electronic brake bias controlled from the steering wheel has not been introduced, although it was under consideration at the time of writing):
To guide the electric single seater racing cars around Formula E’s street circuit tracks, Spark specified a XAP steering wheel for the first and second seasons. By now a familiar sight to Formula E fans, the unit features three large rotary dials, set below a digital screen and flanked by push buttons. A row of shift lights sits just above the screen and four paddles are mounted on the rear.
The steering wheel is an especially important bit of kit in this series because Formula E allows very little telemetry to be relayed to teams during races: it’s up to the driver to keep an eye on critical items, such as powertrain temperature and energy levels, while racing. That information is delivered via the steering wheel screen to the driver, who in turn relays it to the team via the radio.
In the first season, all cars had identical powertrains so the steering wheel was utilised pretty uniformly throughout the paddock. Two of the paddles controlled gear shifts in the five-speed Hewland ’box, one was used to activate Fanboost, and one was used to trigger levels of regenerative braking. The three dials were used to switch between pre-programmed power and torque maps as well as to alter regen settings.
The introduction of new powertrains in season two changed how the steering wheel could be used. DS Virgin Racing and NextEV TCR, for example, both run single gear configurations; without the need to change gear, the paddle shifters are suddenly freed for other uses. Similarly, although Renault e.dams has a twin-gear solution, the car has a manual shifter, which again leaves the paddles free for other uses. It offers the engineers the ability to be even more specific with how they programme the car for each race.
For season three, Spark will introduce a new steering wheel, which will again be a mandatory component for all teams. “It will be much more like an F1-style wheel,” one engineer told us, confirming that XAP will continue as the supplier. “There will be lots more buttons and teams will have greater control over how it is programmed.”
The steering wheel may also allow for electronic brake bias adjustment, rather than the manual knob which is currently employed. “The FIA doesn’t want a fully automatic system,” our source explained, when asked if teams would be able to use the new systems to use programming to autonomously balance brake bias with changing regen levels, something drivers have to do themselves presently. “The intention is to make the cars relatively hard to drive to keep the focus on the driver. Electronic brake bias would still support that aim but would allow the driver to keep his or her hands on the steering wheel, which is better for safety and for the racing.”
Here’s how Mahindra Racing had programmed their steering wheel in season two with a detailed key below (first published as part of our Blueprints series):
- Display. There are two main displays for the driver to toggle between on track. The first is focused on energy calculations and consumption, along with “state of health” indicators such as voltage, gearbox fluid pressure and powertrain temperature. The second display is more conventional, with current lap time, best lap time and the difference between them. These calculations can be made in real time per sector, so the driver can tell in qualifying whether he’s faster or slower than a previous sector and act accordingly. Further technical displays can be accessed in the garage by the pit crew, yielding more detailed information about the condition of the car.
- Fanboost / P function paddle. Used in conjunction with the P rotary switch (see 10).
- Gear upshift paddle. Only four gears to worry about in season two for Mahindra, rather than the five of last year. Fewer gear shifts means more time with hands on the wheel and less time and energy lost as the gears change.
- Carbon fibre chassis. Light, stiff and hardwearing. More important to the results than in most single-seater races, given the car swaps halfway through – if the steering wheel doesn’t come off cleanly on one car or go on properly in the next, that’s a whole lot of time lost in a pit stop.
- Regen functions paddle. Used in conjunction with the P and R rotary dials (see 10 and 14).
- Gear downshift paddle. What goes up, must come down. Mahindra drivers will be hoping to use this paddle to line up the perfect outbraking manoeuvres.
- Alcantara grips. To help drivers hold on, particularly when it gets wet – rain wasn’t an issue at any season one race, so we must be overdue some in season two.
- M rotary switch. A strategy dial that does things such as data marking, energy calculations and other things that Mahindra are keeping under wraps. Probably not banana skins, oil slicks or missiles, however. Actually, managing energy is a big deal because telemetry still isn’t permitted, which means the team is effectively blind to how the driver is faring and energy calculations have to be adjusted manually. The drivers are effectively working as engineers in the cockpit as well as planning their next overtake and staying away from the walls. Intense.
- Radio button. Does what it says on the tin. Like a walkie talkie, the driver has to keep the button depressed when speaking.
- P rotary switch. One of Mahindra’s secret weapons, this is essentially the torque map switch familiar from season one but with a whole new array of settings that can be deployed at various stages over the day, including at launch, during the different track sessions, changing the function of the P paddle or for driving particularly slowly (under safety car periods., for example).
- Display button. Cycles through screens on the main display, just as you’d do in a normal road car.
- M confirmation / reverse. Used to confirm a selected function or, when the car is stationary and brake depressed, to engage reverse. Of course, in an electric car there is no separate reverse gear – the motor simply runs in the opposite direction through the same transmission.
- Neutral. Takes the gearbox out of gear. Very useful after spins and crashes but also for the technical crew.
- R rotary switch. Another switch relating to lots of secret stuff, this dial cycles through regen mapping. Mahindra has developed different maps suitable for different types of corners. Regen is linked to torque maps and paddle settings: the team has managed to get 36 combinations out of this one switch, which would have required juggling all three dials in season one trim. The best combinations for each track will be selected during practice sessions.
- Pit lane limiter. Press to activate, press again to deactivate.
- Shift lights. Because there’s no screaming V8 behind the driver’s head, it can be hard to pinpoint by sound alone exactly when to change gear. These lights help.